New State Law Enhances Protections for Disabled Workers
A new state law that intends to give California's workers with disabilities greater protections than those afforded to them by federal law went into effect Jan. 1, the Los Angeles Times reports. AB 2222, named the Prudence K. Poppink Act after a late administrative law judge, "recapitulat[es]" already-codified California protections and "asserts the primacy" of California law over federal law in state cases, according to Jo Anne Frankfurt, an administrative law judge and lawyer with the state Fair Employment and Housing Commission. Frankfurt said that California protections have "always been greater" than federal protections derived from the Americans with Disabilities Act, but courts often applied the respective laws unevenly due to "confusion" about the "relationship between the [ADA] and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act." The Poppink Act also makes clear that California law trumps the ADA interpretation of the United States Supreme Court, which has limited the scope of the law in three "recent cases." In addition, the new California law defines a disability as "an impairment that limits a major life activity," whereas the ADA includes the word "substantially" in front of "limits." This omission "could require" employers to make "major changes," according to employer lawyers.
The Times reports that in contrast to the recently promulgated federal ergonomics rules, the California law was "quietly passed" after "little opposition in the Legislature" and no subsequent lawsuits protested the law. However, the new law could significantly increase workers' legal leverage over employers, according to attorney David Kadue. "This new definition is going to reverse the trend we've seen in disability cases of employers being very successful in getting summary judgments. Eighty percent are thrown out on summary judgment. With the new definition, it's going to be much more difficult to get cases dismissed," Kadue said. He added that the lack of the word "substantial" in the California law could make it easier for workers with "mild forms" of a disability, such as mild carpal tunnel syndrome, to claim a disability. According to the Times, conditions that are not covered by the ADA but that will be covered under California law include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, diabetes and heart disease. Larry Shapiro, publisher of the California Employee Advisor Newsletter, said that the new law would probably lead to more lawsuits and "potentially increases the burden of (the) employer." But Patricia Yeager, executive director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, said, "My experience with employers is anything they don't want to do is a burden. Employers look at people with disabilities as a burden, period. So I don't have much sympathy for them" (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 12/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.